The region of Lombardy, or Lombardia in Italian, is characterized by the great city of Milan, smaller, historic but thriving municipalities, and beautiful scenery that changes dramatically from the majestic and breathtaking in the north to the plains in the south. It stretches from the Alps on its northern edge with Switzerland, on the border with Switzerland in the north, down through the romantic Lake Como, the eastern part of Lake Maggiore and the western half of Lake Garda on the east, past the smaller lakes, scenic valleys near Bergamo, to the broad, flat plain with the River Po in the south, and the start of the Appennine Mountains in the southwest of the region. It is a populous region that is dominated by the ancient, but modern and very dynamic city of Milan, the largest city in Italy, which sits on the plain, roughly in the center of the region. It is the largest and wealthiest city in Italy. Though there are several cities that challenged Milan in the past such as Pavia, Mantua, Bergamo, and Como, its second most populous city, Brescia is only a fraction of its size at 200,000 residents.
Bustling Milan is the business capital of Italy, and possibly the fashion capital of the world. It is the most advanced and important industrial, financial, commercial, transportation, couture and clothing, and agricultural center of Italy. If you are traveling to Italy, you will likely be passing through the greater Milan area, as one of the two airports in the country that handles transatlantic flights, Malpensa, lies in its outskirts, and many of the trans-European trains connect through Milan. The geography of its key city of Milan on the fertile plains that are a natural junction of trade routes from the river Po, ports on the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian parts of the Mediterranean, and from the Alpine passes made it a center of commerce since its inception.
The region has long been home to great patrons of the arts. Not just in Milan, but Bergamo, Mantua, too, which are renowned for their artwork. There are grand opera theaters in each of the cities and many of the towns. The region is the birthplace of Donizetti, and the inventor of the modern opera, Monteverdi. It played long-time host to the grand master of the Italian opera Verdi, who saw many of his works premiere in Milan, and where he died. It is the home of the center for the development and manufacture of the key instrument of classical European music, the violin, Cremona.
After Milan, Lombardy’s attraction is that of a region with the Alps providing an amazing background in the distance, beautiful lakes dotted with villas with beautiful gardens, impressive valleys and hills, of wealthy and attractive towns filled with imposing buildings and ornate Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance churches, and the skiing and winter sports center of Bormio, and the nearby the glacier-heavy Stelvio National Park.
The beautiful Lake country, especially the largest lakes, Lake Garda, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore have been drawing tourists from all over Europe for the past couple centuries. Though several of the lakes are shared with the regions of Piedmont and Veneto to the west and east, plus Switzerland to north, Lombardy contains much of the best attractions, and certainly the easiest to access. At these large lakes, and the smaller ones such as Iseo, Varese and Orta, you can revel and relax in the serenity of the picturesque landscapes featuring verdant hills, the calming, still deep blue water, and the majestic Alps in the distance. Then there are water sports, and some of the region’s most splendid villas and gardens.
Two-legged Lake Como boasts sparkling blue-green waters set against the snowy peaks of the Alps. It has been a favored resort destination since Roman times. The ancient town of Como lies as a gateway at the southern end of the western leg of the lake. From the Piazza Cavour you can gaze at the beauty of the lake, and then stroll through the ancient Roman street plan and admire its attractive buildings and basilica. The town of Bellagio at the intersection of the legs of the Lake Como is regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in all of Italy. Much of the lake is dotted with villas and gardens. Long, thin Lake Maggiore is around 65 kilometers from end to end, and is home to stately hotels, quaint villages and the distinctive, attractive Borromean Islands. These are actually more accessible from the towns on the Piedmont side of the lake. The ornate, stately and somewhat garish Palazzo Borromeo that dominates the Isola Bella with its artwork and gardens, the largest of the three islands, Isola Madre which is entirely landscaped as a beautiful English garden, and the small Isole dei Pescatori, a dense fishing village. Very popular with summer tourists, Lake Garda is the biggest of the lakes, lying between the Alps and the Pianura Padana. The towns of Desenzano del Garda, Sirmione and Riva del Garda are well worth visiting. Riva is one of Italy’s principal windsurfing centers. Italy’s version of Disneyland, Gardaland, lies east of Sirmione. The smaller lakes are also beautiful and worth visiting, if somewhat less touristy than the big three.
The towns of Bergamo, Pavia, Mantua and Cremona are interesting and distinct in their own right. Each is within easy reach of Milan. Pavia was the home of the Lombard kings for several centuries before the first millennium, and then a thriving commercial center due to its location near the heart of the region’s productive agriculture. With its wealth of medieval, Renaissance and baroque architecture, the walled hilltop town of Bergamo is an enchanting place. The medieval Città Alta, the upper town on top of the hill, is an attraction in its own right. Piazza Vecchia is the elegant square at the heart of the old town. The handsome city of Mantua, situated on a plain at the shores of three small lakes, was founded by the Etruscans and remained independent for many centuries including rule by the art-loving Gonzaga dukes whose patronage is still evident. The Palazzo Ducale, one of the best Renaissance palaces, and the 15th century Basilica di Sant’Andrea designed by Alberti, dominate the city. The graceful town of Cremona has a centuries-old tradition of making violins. All of the famous violin-making families started here, Stradivarius being the most well known. Violins are still made here today, and some workshops are open to the public.
The attractions of Lombardy travel are diverse: urban and outdoors, historic and modern, art and activity, and summer and winter. Though the history of Lombardy is very rich, the outlook is dynamic and forward-looking. It is emblematic of much of present-day Italy, but there is more than enough culture, art and natural beauty that touristy Italy is known for in which to indulge.
The hustle-and-bustle of modern life, similar to that of most big northern European cities, might best describe life in Milan, which dominates Lombardy. The culture in Milan can be described as business-like. Which is appropriate, as Milan is the business, finance, fashion, transportation, and information hub of all Italy.
The fast pace of Milan and its surroundings contrast greatly with the life in the fields, and life in the smaller cities, towns and villages on the plains, on the lakes, and in the hills. But, overall, people know how to live well with plentiful good food, wine, art and culture, readily accessible outdoor activities, and enough vacation time in which to enjoy it.
Like most Italians, the Lombardo love opera and soccer. Each of the cities and large towns in Lombardy has vibrant opera companies. Bergamo still honors its famous son, the operatic composer Donizetti. Soccer is very popular, both as a spectator sport, and to play. Holidays are taken seriously in Italy, something that North Americans can learn from. Most of the restaurants close in the month of August, the traditional month of holidays, when the cities empty and most Italians travel to the beaches or other resort destinations. There are many in easy reach of Milan. Lake Como is nearly a suburb of Milan, and the other lakes are within a several hour drive at most, as it the other outdoor wonders of the Alps that are looming the distance. The winter sports center of Bormio is in northern Lombardy.
This region is one of the most historic in Europe. The Lombard plain, located in the central part of the region is at the confluence of several Alpine passes, near the River Po and easily accessible from Italian peninsula, its location has made it unavoidably a witness to much of European history for over two thousand years. Nearly every conqueror of Italy from Hannibal to Nazi Germany crossed through this area en route to Rome and the other Italian cities. At the axis of the plains and the trade routes is the city of Milan, the ancient Mediolanum, which means "middle of the plain" or more colloquially as "central place" in Latin. Much of the history of Lombardy is predicated by the history of Milan.
Milan was founded by Celtic tribes, who settled along the Po River some time around the 7th century BC. In 222 BC, Roman legions marched into the territory, defeated the locals and occupied the town. It was part of the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul and with the rest of Lombardy was thoroughly romanized. Lombardy was the home of two of the Roman Empire's greatest poets, Virgil, who penned the epic of the birth of Rome, The Aenid, and the humorous and Rome's greatest romantic poet Catullus (who was born in nearby Verona, but spent most of his time at Sirmione on Lake Garda). At Como were born both Pliny the Elder, the great natural scientist, and his nephew, Pliny the Younger, a renowned consul and lawyer who left vivid descriptions of the beauty of the lake.
To combat the near incessant threats from the barbarians Mediolanum rose to prominence as one of the capitals of the western half of the Roman Empire in third century AD. From here, Constantine proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of the Empire in the Edict of Milan in 313. Under the powerful bishop Ambrose in the fourth century AD the Roman Catholic Church successfully combated the Arian heresy, and he set up the Church as a power in its own right against the Empire.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, and following the Goths, a barbaric Germanic tribe, the Longobards or Lombards, invaded this region and much of the peninsula beginning in 568. They set up a kingdom in Pavia, and eventually gave their name to the region. It endured centuries of chaos caused by additional waves of barbarian invasions. Feudalism took hold, as it did throughout much of Europe during the Dark Ages.
Milan formed one of Italy's first commune (or commonwealth) by 1024, under the leadership of the bishop Heribert. This led the city into a period of rapid growth. Many other cities, especially in the north became powerful and independent city-states. In this time of political fragmentation, many Italian cities began to assert their autonomy. These communes contributed to the demise of feudalism in northern Italy replacing it with deeply rooted identification with the city rather than to the region or country. This sense is still strongly evident throughout Italy today.
The independent city-states, not just in Lombardy, but throughout Italy, often engaged in violent and frequent conflicts. In addition to the inter-city strife, these city-states suffered from turmoil from the divisive rivalries among their citizens, the longest-standing was the struggle between the Guelphs, who were originally supporters of the Popes, and the Ghibellines, who began by supporting The Holy Roman Emperor. Despite, and maybe in part due to, such internal and external divisions, these city-states contributed a great deal to the economic, social, and cultural growth of Italy. In fact, by the 12th century, much of Italy was prospering at a rate unseen since the highlight of Roman times, and much ahead of the rest of Europe.
Milan subjugated the surrounding area and cities of Como, Pavia and Lodi. In response to a request from Lodi, The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, came to Italy in 1154 and eventually sacked Milan in 1158. Afterwards, the Milanese did not behave according to Barbarossa's wishes and he returned, laid siege and eventually devastated Milan. Instead of being an example to the other independent-minded city-states, this instead spurred the creation of Lombard League that consisted of all of nearby cities (except for Pavia whose leaders despised Milan too much to participate). When Barbarossa returned to Italy a third time, this united Lombard League defeated him. During his fifth trip while preparing to lay siege to Milan in 1176, he was crushed at Legnano outside of Milan. This unity did not last long, and the city-states returned to their desired occasional warfare amongst themselves after the Treaty of Constance was signed with the Emperor in 1183, which kept him out of their business.
By 1300, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Holy See turned their attention away from Italy. The emperors worried about German affairs while the pope spent the time trying to spread its influence over the rest of Europe and met considerable resistance from the French, who moved the papacy to France during this time. This lack of interference lasted in northern and central Italy until nearly 1500. The Black Death of 1347-48 killed about a third of the population of Italy. This put a temporary halt to the 400 years of continued prosperity and growth.
At the same time, many of the communal governments of the city-states fell under the rule of military dictators called "signori", who curbed their factionalism and became hereditary rulers. In Milan the Visconti family rose to power in the 13th century, to be succeeded by the Sforza family in the mid-15th century. Milan reached its greatest glory under Gian Galeazzo Visconti who ruled from 1385 to 1402. He aimed to unite Italy under his lead and did conquer much of the northern Italy before his death in 1402. Soon afterwards, Bergamo and Brescia were lost to the Venetian Republic.
The larger cities expanded into the surrounding countryside and absorbed many of the smaller cities. This was a time of economic growth, glittering cultural advancement and constant strife among the city-states. The frequent wars between these saw the rise in Italy of military leaders known as the "condottieri", which were hired by city-states. The condottieri led mercenary troops that battled other mercenaries in a nearly constant game in which the wars decided the political questions, but were beautiful pageants that usually resulted in very few casualties and never the sack of the cities.
Lodovico Il Moro, who was possibly Milan's most cultured leader, whose reign included patronage of Leonardo Da Vinci, was responsible for one of Italy's greatest political mistakes. After his quarrel with the government of Naples, he invited Charles VIII of France to march through his territory and the rest of the Italy to claim the Kingdom of Naples. After not being stopped by a league of several Italian states at the Battle of Fornovo in 1494, the French had shown that the rich Italian cities and states were vulnerable in their disunity and worthy of domination and exploitation. The Spanish soon followed the French, first to stake their claim to Naples and then to much of the rest of the peninsula. This marked the beginning of a period of foreign domination that lasted until the mid-19th century. After defeating the French at Pavia in 1527, by roughly 1530 almost all of Italy had been subjugated by the Habsburg ruler Charles V, who was both the Holy Roman emperor and king of Spain. Though the Spanish rule brought peace and stability, at least during the first part of their dominance on the peninsula, it was a period that was characterized by general cultural and economic stagnation. Spain remained the dominant power in Italy until Austria replaced it after the War of the Spanish Succession that ended in 1714.
Under the enlightened rule of Austria, by Maria Theresa and her son, Joseph II, from 1740 to 1792, Lombardy experience intelligent economic reforms that helped to give this area an edge during the upcoming industrial revolution. In the 18th century some areas of Italy achieved independence. The most significant was the Savoy dynasty in Piedmont, which annexed Sardinia and portions of Lombardy and became an independent kingdom. Italy itself at this time still did play a key role in European politics.
Napoleon arrived in 1796 and set up the Cisalpine Republic in Lombardy. Italian patriots eagerly joined the French cause at first. The important victory over the Austrians at Marengo, in nearby Piedmont in 1800, set the stage for Napoleon to be crowned the King of Italy in Milan in 1805. Education and laws were reformed on the French model. But, by the time the Austrians chased out the French, most Italians had grown weary of the high taxes, oppression of the French and the ambitious, war-mongering Napoleon whose "Grand Armee" included many thousands of Italian soldiers killed in his ill-fated attempt to conquer Russia and who looted much of Italy's art treasures that currently provide some of the highlights of the Louvre.
The Congress of Vienna held after the Napoleonic wars tried to restore the ancient monarchial regimes and laws in Europe. But, the majority of Italians, especially in the north, enjoyed the ideals of the Napoleonic reforms and coupled with a growing sense of national pride during that time, gave rise to secret societies aiming for Italian unification and liberal reform. Milan revolted against the Austrian rule in 1848, which led to similar revolts in Venice and later Rome and caused the Kingdom of Piedmont to declare war on Austria. After some early victories by Piedmont and there not terribly aggressive king, the Austrians won back control of the territories and suppressed the revolts by 1849. Piedmont did gain control of Lombardy and Tuscany when allied with the French in conflict ten years later. This was largely the result of the twin battles at Solferino and San Martino della Battaglia. The carnage at the former led to the formation of the International Red Cross. In 1860 adventurer and patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi sailed to Sicily with a thousand volunteers, half of whom were from Lombardy, and eventually toppled the Kingdom of Naples in the south. Combined with the victories of Piedmont, which accounted for most of the rest of the peninsula, the Kingdom of Italy was declared in 1861.
With a unified country, trade increased and industry boomed in Lombardy, which, despite some violent labor strife in the 1890s and then again the next decade, began to join the mainstream of modern Europe. This was a time of general content, especially in the north, that was referred in somewhat derogatory fashion as "Italietta" (little Italy).
Italy could have avoided participation in the First World War, but it decided to join with the hope of gaining some territory from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. After help from the French on the Italian front and the loss of several million of men it did gain some land in the northeast. Northern Italian industry prospered during the years between the wars.
During the Second World War, the industrial areas of Lombardy, including Milan, were hard hit by Allied bombings during the summer of 1943. After Allied advances up the peninsula, Mussolini was deposed and the new Italian government signed an armistice. The German army still remained and fought on for another year-and-a-half in central then northern Italy. Mussolini was rescued from Allied captivity and re-installed as the head of a puppet government that was headquartered at the town of Salo on the western shore of Lake Garda. During this time of continued fighting, a widespread Resistance successfully harassed and battled the Germans. Mussolini was caught by partisans in April 1945 trying to escape to Switzerland, shot and his body and that of his mistress, were hung on display in Milan.
With substantial aid from the Marshall Plan and some successful government planning, after the war, Milan and Turin in neighboring Piedmont provided the impetus for the economic comeback of the 1950s. This Italian version of capitalism featured some large multinational companies like Olivetti and Pirelli, but mostly thousands of small, usually family-run concerns. This economic growth was the impetus for a great amount of migration from southern Italy to Milan and Turin, which both grew tremendously during the postwar decades. The fashion industry moved from Florence to Milan beginning in the 1960s, due to the lack of a major airport in Florence, which added international glamour to the prosperity, for which it is probably best known for today. Like many other regions, Lombardy continues to be, as it has since the war, prosperous, well fed, attractively shorn, and visited by many European tourists, especially the attractive Lakes regions, if generally overlooked by North American tourists.
The food and wines of the Lombardy region are very good. Though there should be several familiar and famous dishes, there are some interesting surprises from this land with long and rich culinary traditions.
As with all regions, the cuisine of Lombardy varies considerably throughout following the contours of the land, from the Alps in the north, to the Lake Garda to the east and the Lake Maggiore to the west and the Lake Como in between, down to the sprawl of Milan to the fertile plains of the Po River Basin in the south. Though industrialized and cosmopolitan Milan might have lost much of its historical cuisine, the other ten provinces in Lombardy have kept much of their culinary traditions. But, it is from Milan where originated several dishes that are now part of staples of international cuisine: osso buco, the saffron-tinted risotto alla milanese, costollette alla milanese (better known in similar guises as weinerschnitzel or milanesa), and panettone.
Varied with the terrain, all Lombard cuisine is generally hearty. Maybe excepting modern Milan, much of the cooking follows what is available, which is typical of all regional Italian cooking. But, Lombardy is the richest Italian region with plentiful agriculture, dairy and meat-packing. It is a cuisine of meat and dairy that is often hearty. A good deal of fat is used in Lombardian cooking, especially compared to other cuisines on the peninsula. This causes Italians from other regions to often comment that the food is overly heavy and difficult to digest. The cold winter climate easily calls for hearty and rich foods. So, the antipasti course here often features meats, such as one of the numerous types of excellent salami, prosciutto, carpaccio and the unique bresaola. Peperonata (sautéed red peppers, tomatoes and onions) and artichokes are also popular.
Risotto is much more common as the primo piatto than pasta in most of Lombardy. But, pasta is always found on menus. It is often served with Gorgonzola cheese, one of the famous food products of the region. If pasta is served alla mantovana (“in the style of Mantua”), it will be served with a sauce made with meat, crushed walnuts, cream and white wine. The risotto is commonly made with saffron in Milan. In the areas in the southern portion of Lombardy which are just across the Po River from Emilia Romagna region, stuffed pastas are popular as these are in that region including tortelli di zucca, pasta stuffed with pumpkin. But, there is also a famous ravioli dish from Bergamo, called casoncelli, and fresh pastas are popular on the eastern and southern shores of Lake Como.
Corn and wheat are grown in the western parts of the region. Buckwheat is grown in the Valtellina Valley in the north. In the mountainous Valtellina and the areas east of Lake Como where buckwheat is a staple and the specialty is pizzoccheri, which is basically a casserole of buckwheat noodles, vegetables, the distinctive Bitto cheese and butter. Another specialty of Valtellina is polenta taragna, which is made with buckwheat, butter and Taleggio cheese. In humid and marshy southern Lombardy, rice is cultivated. This is also the basis for a large cattle and dairy industries, which are evident in the cooking. Beef, veal and pork are common throughout much of the region, cheeses are plentiful, and butter is prominent. Unlike most other regions, butter is the preferred traditional cooking fat in Lombardy. After butter, bacon, cream and meat juices are typically used before olive oil. This is due to the fact that there is not much olive oil produced in the relatively cold climates, just fairly small amounts in temperature areas on the coasts of Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Iseo, and cows and butter are much more readily supplied. Legend has it that butter was invented in the Lombardian town of Lodi, and that Julius Caesar was the first person of note to appreciate its culinary worth.
Pork is an important component in most diets. Pancetta and lard are widely used as cooking fats, and pork is the prime ingredient in the famous casoeula, a hearty stew with cabbage. But, pork is most evident in the production of salami, which is a staple in the cuisine of Lombardy. Some of the notable versions are the prosciutto crudo that is common throughout the country, which is a specialty of the hills of Brianza and those near Mantua, interesting salami from Brianza and Barzi, and cotechino bianco, a spiced white sausage from the northern area of Valtellina. Also originally from Valtellina is the delicacy, bresaola, air-cured beef.
In Mantua, the ancient and historic specialty is stracotto di asino, a stew of donkey. Horse is also still common on their menus, too. In the mountainous area and less-populated hills and valleys, wild game is popular. Spit-roasted small birds served over polenta is a traditional dish of the area around Bergamo.
Freshwater fish is very important in the numerous towns on lakes Garda, Iseo, Como, and Maggiore. There is perch, carp, shad, small whitefish, trout and occasionally even the rare sturgeon finds itself in a fisherman’s net. The perch and smaller whitefish are often breaded and fried in butter. Shad can be dried and roasted for an unusual dish. In the marshy areas of the Po and around Mantua, frogs, eels and snails are common in dishes.
As with the rest of Italy, but even more so given the prominent dairy industry, cheese is very important. One of the world’s most famous cheeses, Gorgonzola, the excellent blue cheese made from cow’s milk, is from a small town of that name in the Lombardian plain. Other native cheeses include the pungent, but flavorful Taleggio from the hills of northern Lombardy, and the piquant cow’s milk DOP Bitto and Valtellina Casera in the north. The semi-firm Provolone is produced on much of the plains south of Milan. Then there is widespread, hard grating and eating cheese, Grana Padano. Though accounting for only a small portion of its overall production, Parmigiano Reggiano, arguably Italy’s greatest cheese, is produced near Mantua, on the right bank of the Po. Inoffensive, industrially-produced Bel Paese is produced in Lombardy. Marscapone is popular throughout Italy and commonly used in the region.
Some other food specialties of the region include prized wild asparagus and truffles are found in the southern plains and forests and make onto plates in those areas. Mostarda is a unique fruit chutney spiced with mustard that is a specialty of Cremona and its surroundings, it is used a condiment. Torrone, nougat, is also a famous product of Cremona. Nearly every city and town has its own sweet, including the famous panettone from Milan that is a Christmas season staple throughout Italy.
Vineyards are plentiful, and the wines that are produced here come in a variety of styles, from sturdy red to rosé to light white to flavorful, medium-bodied white to sweet desserts, from still to effervescent to sparkling, made with indigenous grapes to French varietals that took root over a century ago. Most of these unique wines are quite good, if somewhat underappreciated. Most of the wines don’t leave the region, or just make it across the border, snatched up by knowledgeable Swiss consumers. There are two DOCG wines produced in Lombardy are Franciacorta from around Lake Garda and Lake Iseo, and Valtellina Superiore produced just north of Lake Como.
The red wines from the Valtellina, well regarded since pre-roman times, are made primarily from the temperamental nebbiolo grape. These do not reach nearly the heights as these do in Piedmont with the Barolo, Barberesco and Gemme regions, but are very good with the Superiore DOCG designation, which has the sub-regions, Sassella, Grumello, Valgella and Inferno. Much of the regular Valtellina wines are light and refreshing. At the higher elevations that are denoted “Valtellina Superiore” the wines develop more body and higher concentrations of alcohol. These are helped by a minimum aging of two years in oak barrels. The wines of the Valtellina Superiore have to be harvested by hand because of the steep terrain.
Under the Franciacorta name are red, white, sparkling, plus pinot nero (pinot noir) and pinot grigio, which are labeled as such. The red is a blend of cabernet franc, barbera, nebbiolo and merlot. The white and sparkling wines are made from chardonnay and pinot grigio. Sparkling wine, the spumante, is produced in great quantity in the eastern part of the region.
The western shores of Lake Garda are an important wine production area. The crisp white Lugana, which is made from one of the very best clones of the trebbiano grape, is produced near here and has been exported in recent years. Chiaretto is a long popular rich-colored rosé that is light and dry. The newly exported, local Groppello is bottled as a varietal and produced a rich, tannic wine with berry flavors.
There are good wines from Oltrepò Pavese, in the Po River Valley in southwestern Lombardy. This DOC has three hearty reds with interesting names, Barbacarlo, Buttafuoco, and Sangue di Guida. Sparkling wine from this region is popular throughout Italy. The very light, quaffable Lambrusco is popular in Mantua, as it is in nearby Emilia. North of Mantua there is a DOC that produces good whites, rosé and Merlot.
The pleasures of Lombardy are multi-faceted. These range from those offered by a modern, cosmopolitan city to the relaxed charms of the nature’s beauty. There is the shopping for clothing and accessories in the fashionable boutiques in Milan, some of the best in Europe and in the world, the excellent restaurants and nightlife fueled by the wealth and style-conscious residents of Milan, the excellent art in Pinocateca di Brera in the city and the most re-produced painting in the world, Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, a reinvigorating stay on one of the gorgeous lakes that are an easy commute from Milan and visit to one of the several other historic cities in the region such as Bergamo, Cremona, and Mantua.
A visit to one of the lake resorts is a prime attraction for many tourists, especially the three biggest, Lake Maggiore, Lake Garda and Lake Como. The attraction of the lakes is, for a great many, the beauty of the lakes. These are great place to relax, enjoy the scenery and maybe engage in some light activities. There are water sports on the lakes including sailing and windsurfing. There are spas, both near the lakes and elsewhere, including the San Pellegrino Terme, now known worldwide for its mineral-rich sparkling water that is a fixture in Italian-themed and expensive restaurants across the globe. There are scenic national parks in the north. A greater attraction, there are winter sports in Bormio to the north in the Alps near Switzerland. There are numerous beautiful areas both near the towns and the lakes, in which to engage in hiking and biking.
Just a quick trip from Como, there is a casino at the town of Campione d’Italia. Geared mostly to take Swiss francs, ebverybody with a passport, coat and tie for gentlemen is welcome.
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Lake Como is a oasis of tranquility, a magical combination between the lush Mediterranean foliage, the elegant villas and its colorful gardens, and snowy alpine peaks reflecting in its blue deep waters. Along the shores of Lake Como are the charming towns of Tremezzo, Bellagio, Menaggio, Cernobbio, Varenna and Lecco.
Located in the plain called Pianura Padana, and surrounded by swampy lakes, it was once a busy and prosperous port, with its access to the Po River via the Mincio. This melancholy setting, reinforced by the foggy or humid weather, can seem uninviting at first, but Mantua is a great art city and worth a visit.
Fashion, finance, food, and soccer, are all synonymous with the modern, sophisticated and stylish city of Milan. It is one of the world’s fashion capitals, and also home to the Italian stock exchange and most of the country’s important business company. Milan is huge, busy, modern, cosmopolitan, and forward-looking. It is much different than the typical Italian city, but it is thoroughly Italian.
Located on the plain on the banks of the River Ticino south of Milan, Pavia saw its heyday over a thousand years, as the capital of the Lombardy’s kings, but survives today as a successful commercial center and a university town. It is home to the nearby famous Renaissance Certosa di Pavia, and it retains much of the ancient Roman street plan with its center nicely car-free and easy to traverse on foot.